Airtankers arrive at Kamloops base

By Jill Sperling
June 1, 2017 - 5:00pm Updated: June 1, 2017 - 6:00pm

KAMLOOPS — This year's wildfire season has been relatively quiet, but there's no telling how the rest of the summer will pan out. 

This week, airtankers arrived at the Provincial Wildfire Coordination Centre in Kamloops, ready to take flight the moment a fire breaks out. 

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"Basically the purpose of an airtanker is to buy some time for the ground crew," said Michael Benson, Superintendent of the Provincial Airtanker Program. "So, essentially what we generally do is you get a fire, we send out these fast resources to get out there, they put retardant around the fire, which slows down its spread."

The skimmer aircraft often follow. 

"They're able to go and skim along the water, pick up water, drop it on top of the fire, and that reduces the intensity of the fire that's contained within that retardant line," Benson said.  "This is all buying time for all the ground resources to get onsite, whether they come by helicopter, whether they come by truck, the firefighters get onsite and they're the ones that actually extinguish the fire." 

Six airtankers and two Bird Dogs arrived in the city on Monday. All of the airtanker fleet for the province is managed through the Provincial Wildfire Coordination Centre. 

"Things have slowed down as compared to previous seasons," Benson said. "We're so far at 14 active fire missions for our airtankers. At this time last year we were at 48. So, it's a little bit of a slower spring for us, which is fine.

A slower season frees up the aircraft to help fight fires out of province. They have already been down to Washington state a few times this spring. 

"When it's slow, when we don't require them to be here we will actually export them when there's a need so they can go down to areas of the United States and be down there for weeks," Benson said. "The benefit for the province is if we don't require the aircraft here we can recover some of those daily costs that are associated with having an airtanker fleet." 

If the wildfire season heats up in B.C., the airtankers will return to hit hard, and hit fast to contain a fire before it spreads. 

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